Playlist Navigation Bar
Stone Gods: 4. The Unbearable Lightness of Forgetting
He wrote a long, elegant, scrawling hand, and it filled page after page as he worked through the days and nights. 'I want one thing,' he wrote somewhere. 'Truth. The truth of everything. It is contained here, in love. How foolish we have been to look elsewhere. Or lazy? It is a hard task. But not impossible. Live past desire and you shall know the truth. There is no Science to it. Or perhaps this is true science. Did Eldar know and n. tell? Not that it matters. Fates are different.'
It had been summer when he began, and now autumn was drawing to a close. He had even stopped visiting Eldarion and Calwen in the past weeks, choosing instead to sit at his ink-splattered desk and mull over his theories again and again. Sometimes he would pick out a random work on astronomy, or chemistry, to see if he could find a clue there. Sometimes he lay on the couch in his study, looking over at his pile of work, cringing at how little it was, and how much less of that little was anything solid.
It was in one of these vacant moods that he decided he needed to get out more.
He went to a nearby inn and asked for ale. The thought came to him as he stared upwards from the mug to the woman who came with it.
Perhaps he was missing some vital experience.
The following weeks were a nightmare for his friends, few as they were, and caused considerable discomfort to his much larger circle of admirers. Everyone was shocked by a man who seemed so completely at odds with the one they had known all along.
He took to drink, and once he began, he entered into the task with his usual singleness of purpose and slid into a haze of alcohol. Still worse were his liaisons. From a man who was almost jested at for his austerity, he had spiraled with dizzying speed into a routine of waking beside a different woman every other day, and took no particular care to conceal it. Gondor was by no means a land without secrets, but they were exactly so, secrets. His colleagues, many of whom were of high Númenorean race, were men of great discretion and loyalty, but also had strict ideas about honour. They knew of no other way to deal with such a bewildering occurrence among their circles than a quiet and wary retreat from him.
He did not stop writing. In fact, he continued to write all his waking hours, but he never re-read any of it. He knew his moment of light was not contained in any of them, and he was wise enough to realise somewhere in the recesses of his mind that it would never be as long as he continued upon this astonishingly steep downward trend.
Still, it was so easy, and so restful. He could forget, and he realised how much he needed to forget. Not merely the lovers who had cosseted him all his life, and still haunted him. Not merely the great work that eluded him. No, it was his whole life that came crashing down on his conscious mind now. And he was unpleasantly surprised to find that no memories of it afforded him any joy. Sometimes he could almost believe he had never been that boy and that man - had never constantly stayed the nights up with only his books for company, never earned the highest praise his tutors could bestow, never outwitted Calwen at their warlike, consuming battles, never been the best assistant Eldarion had ever had, never trusted anything. Or anyone. He did not need to believe, when he was like this. He knew it was wrong, he knew; but he needed the rest so badly. He was a man of great control, after all, a man of Westernesse; he could leave this dream-life and go back to the old one at any time he chose. He only needed the respite for now.
As the weeks passed, he found himself less and less able to look at his work. His writing hours dwindled. Gradually he stopped writing at all.
In the royal quarters, Calwen grew livid, but this time it was Eldarion who would not hear of a restraining hand on Barahir.
"He is a grown man, Calwen. Leave him be."
"Leave him be? Leave him be? My lord, you know better than I what this purports for - for everything! His work, the university, the court...and what of him? He will destroy himself if he continues like this. It is disgraceful! This is past a question of caution, Eldarion. The Citadel seems to have fallen over on its ears, listening at his doors."
"Calwen, he is a prince of the realm. Others before him have done worse, and been forgiven and forgotten. Now it is you who are losing your sense of history."
He laughed softly, and then, slightly shamed by the stricken look on her face, cleared his throat and said, "See here, little one, I have faith that Barahir can pull himself out of it. Perhaps he just does not wish to do so yet. And reputations have stood worse battering before this. This is hardly an innocent city, and you know it. You are right to worry so for a friend, but I do not think you should trouble yourself unduly."
"My lord," she said, tears sparkling in her eyes, "for friendships' sake, if nothing else..."
He cut in blandly, in a voice that brooked no further discussion, "Leave him be, Calwen."
What Eldarion had really meant was not for Barahir to be left entirely alone, Indeed, he recognised the signs that he would have to take a hand in the matter soon. He did not care a damn for the courts and who refused to receive Faramir’s grandson. And he was concerned for Barahir’s mind and health. As for his morals, if Barahir was not troubled by them, Eldarion did not see why he should be. He had lived among mariners long enough to develop somewhat different ideas about morality. He knew of much more that went on in Minas Tirith’s secret chambers than what Barahir was currently displaying from his rooftops, and long past condemning his people.
But Barahir -- Eldarion knew what drove him, and knew what to do. He did not, in fact, mean to leave him be. He had only meant for Calwen to have no part in it.
Without fanfare, he sent Barahir an order disguised as an invitation to dine with him and his sons one evening. It was tradition for the royal ladies to entertain guests, if they so wished, one night a week, and Eldarion always enjoyed his time with his two eldest children, occassionally extending their comradeship to a like-minded guest or two. There could be no better setting.
Inspite of all he thought – or did not think – of of recent events, it took him a great deal of self-control to stay his deep pity when he laid eyes Barahir answered the summons.
Neither did the princes turn a hair at the sight of the red-eyed, seedy man who took seat with them almost shame-facedly, and a little defiantly. There was the merest hint of grey at his temples, but he looked more tired than ever before, and the hands that held knife and fork were so white that the veins stood out visibly in a visible criss-cross of dark blues and greens.
They gamely kept up a constant flow of conversation about everything interesting at the Armsmaster’s yard and in their latest course of study, careful to stay away from anything that might refer even slightly to the dark areas of Minas Tirith’s circles, and what Barahir was doing there. He watched them silently and amusedly at their noble pretence. Young men were so transparent.
Then Eldarion began to speak. He first added his stories to their own, talking of his days as a young swordsman at the yards, and somehow turned from there to an old, old tale about the forging of the very first sword, and Barahir listened, fascinated in spite of himself.
He was nonplussed to find that he did not know it. But there! he had no time to dwell on how he had missed it. It began to be told as a poem, slow and rich, and by the end, he caught himself feebly keeping time on the table, with the boys.
There was a brief silence, and then the king took up another story that began where the first left off. And it continued long after the meal. Barahir was astonished to discover that he had not heard this one, or another, or another, ever before. It was true, then, what people used to say about Eldarion. He could hold a kingdom spellbound when he chose to, and none better.
“It’s getting late,” he observed gently at some length.
“You haven’t finished your story, atar, ” pointed out Elendil, the elder one.
“No,” he agreed. “But perhaps you can wait another evening for it.”
“Atar!” Elendil protested, laughing. “Now you are acting like the Southron witch who killed men by keeping them awake all the time with her song.”
“Ah,” he smiled.
He walked with Barahir to the door. The latter had not said a word since his goodbyes to Elendil and Ereinion. “So what did happen finally?” he asked him abruptly as they turned to clasp arms.
“Some other time, lad,” he said aggravatingly.
Barahir would have otherwise realised that Eldarion was, in fact, not entirely without the wisdom of the Southron witch, but he was much too intent on drinking the next week away. However, when another missive appeared after a few days, he did take care to spend the previous night sober. He went along again, and was treated to yet another trove of things and people he had never heard of before. He could not believe he had missed out on all this lore. This time, the princes talked with their father, asking him questions, and with them, Barahir was tempted to ask him just where he had learned so much, when he remembered two things. Eldarion was twice his age. And his kin had lived since before Rúmil and Pengolodh.
In fact…did the lord Celeborn not yet dwell in Imladris?
He started to look forward to these meetings, like an eager student once again. And soon enough, the evenings went beyond a single one a week, and the men often spent two or three evenings out of seven, and frequently more, in their concourse. It pleased Eldarion to see how quickly Barahir perked up. He had taken less than a month to leave behind the wine and wenches, and he had actually shaved. He was still thin and pale, and his eyes often dull, but he had been dangerously close to a collapse, and it would take him time to heal.
One night, as winter was slipping into spring, things went a step further. The younger prince Ereinion asked his brother, “Elendil, you can name all the Chieftains of the Northern Dúnedain, can you?”
“I think so.”
“And all the Chieftains of the six clans?”
“At least some way back. I have not lord Barahir’s memory for names,” Elendil grinned. Barahir grinned back. He was genuinely fond of the King’s heir, and had been responsible for at least some of his education a few years back.
“Shall I test you both?”
“Mercy,” breathed Eldarion. Barahir heard himself laughing. “By all means,” he told his young inquisitor. “I am confident of my knowledge, even if Elendil is not.”
“Well, alright. The fifteenth Chieftain was…?”
“How demeaningly simple of you, Ereinion. Lord Arathorn the second, your grandfather’s father.”
“Who were my grandfather’s grandfathers, then?”
“Lord Arador on his father’s side, of course. And from his mother’s line – wait – the lord Dírhael, also of the line of Aranarth.”
“Excellent, Barahir,” Eldarion said.
The younger man looked at him accusingly. “You once took them up for me, when I was fifteen years old. You knew all the chieftains of the Dúnedain, all chiefs of the six clans of Arnor – ”
The boys began to snicker.
“ – all the kings of the three kingdoms, and every lord of every house of the line of Elros all the way back to the rise of Númenor.”
“It is my job, you know,” the king murmured amidst the whoops that followed.
Barahir laughed again. “And mine, but for different reasons.”
“Your grandfather could name all the lords of the line of Elros as well. Your father never could. But he is not a storyteller, unlike lord Faramir. Or you. And such things become important in the telling of tales. They give one – perspective, is it not so?”
“You have heard of how my grandfather Arathorn’s troth came about, Barahir?” Eldarion asked.
“I think so. A long time ago – Gilraen the Fair, I think she was called?”
“She was. And she was very young when he asked her hand in marriage, not more than…”
Barahir entered his chambers late that night, in deep thought. He undressed himself and lay down on his bed, his forehead creased. It was a full moon night, and the brightness streaming through his open window pricked his eyes open over and over again.
Finally, as the watcher tolled one on the mighty gong, he threw himself out of bed, lit a candle, and sat at his desk. He dipped a quill in the inkstand that his valet always kept filled, picked out a sheet and wrote, hesitantly at first, then with greater ease as he grew used to the flowing curves under his fingers again.
‘Ivorwen persuaded her husband Dírhael to allow Arathorn to wed with their daughter Gilraen (called the Fair. As were how many other Edain women?), thus being partly responsible (in more than one way) for the birth of Aragorn.
Arador – paternal grandfather to Aragorn. Did not live to see his grandson.’
He grinned to himself as he picked up speed, and continued on leaf after leaf with little notes. Just before dawn rose, he took a small square of parchment and wrote two lines upon it.
‘Must go to Imladris. Is it possible?’
He sent it up impulsively. The sleepy runner came back almost immediately with the same square inscribed with one word on the other side in Eldarion’s striking calligraphy.
Once the idea struck, as always, Barahir could not wait to begin. He saw Eldarion only once, briefly, in the next four days, but he spent his time tying up loose ends as swiftly as possible before he could set out. The king seemed very glad at the turn of events, and promised to send messengers ahead to his kin. He would be welcomed warmly, he assured Barahir. And the purpose of his visit would be of the utmost delight to the lords of the vale. Beyond that, nothing more could be said.
Then Elboron grew seriously ill, and all was forgotten in the wake of a family crisis.
Barahir stood beside his father’s bed, worried and bewildered, sickened at the thought of what could happen.
And his mother, white from the night’s battle by her husband’s side, told him and his brothers, “Not now. Soon, but he will be hale for some time yet.”
She embraced them each in turn, and when she came to Barahir she whispered, “Go. He will not like to have detained you.”
Barahir spoke briefly to his father and received a vehement confirmation of this. His heart sank as he saw Elboron gasping to articulate the few simple words he wished to say.
The sadness of mortal Men, came the whisper from out of the eaves of South Ithilien.
He came back to the city that evening, just in time to leave for at nightfall. He was ready for this journey, had been for a long time. He could afford a stroll along the Citadel to calm his mind.
It was midnight when a stooping, grey-cloaked figure entered a decrepit public house in one of the lower circles, seeking someone, and made for one of the far tables. There Barahir was half-sitting, half-slumped over the greasy top, looking like a man in terrible pain. He began to object as he felt two strong hands lift him by his arms, but found he could not struggle much. He hiccupped and sighed, and gave in like a tired child.
Something flashed discreetly on one of the fingers that raised his arm to the tall shoulders. He smiled. “That’s my ring,” he pointed delightedly. “My ring.”
“Yes, son,” hissed Eldarion, half-amused. “It has exactly your name. Now up with you, and no trying my patience. Walk, now. That’s right. Left foot first. Now your right. Steady.”
The ache in his head grew to astounding proportions as Eldarion marched him without mercy all the way up to the Tower and round through to the side entrance. By the time they were within the walls of the house, he was only dimly aware of a couple of offers from unknown people to take him from the king, and Eldarion waving them all off as he dragged him up into a low-eaved room and dropped him none-too-gently on the bed.
The night was chilly, and Barahir was shivering for lack of a warm cover. Eldarion moved rapidly, throwing off his cloak, lighting a fire, piling stray cushions up beside Barahir.
“Wh-why are you doing this? I don’t like it,” Barahir said. Eldarion stripped him of his thin tunic silently, raising his arms over his head to pull off the sleeves.
“Oh, do bear with me,” he replied dryly.
“I don’t like it. I don’t like you,” said Barahir.
“I am sorry to hear that,” he mumbled abstractedly as he got down on one knee to unlace his boots.
“You shouldn’t be. It’s not your fault. It’s not. Is it?”
“What is, lad?”
“It’s n-not your fault. What happened? – and don’t call me lad – what happened? Y-you had your Arwen once, didn’t you?”
Eldarion’s dark head remained bent over his shoe.
“Yes,” he said shortly, his voice muffled. “She died.”
“You should have died too,” Barahir told him before falling back unconscious against the covers.
Thanks a million, Lindorien!
Playlist Navigation Bar